Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition (26/4/19–15/9/19)

Danny Torrance's jumper from The Shining
Seven years ago Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition could be experienced at Amsterdam's EYE Filmmuseum and has since wound its way (via cities including Toronto, Frankfurt and Barcelona) to London's Design Museum, where it runs until the 15th of September.  This terrific exhibition features countless props, costumes, annotated scripts, lenses, posters, and so on, and you should make every effort to see if it ever turns up anywhere near you.  It even gives you the opportunity to see the sole Oscar won by Kubrick, which was awarded to the director for his groundbreaking FX work on 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Kubrick may have made just 13 feature films in 46 years, but he's as good a shout as any for the label of 🐐.

Axes used in The Shining's most famous scene
The exhibition's impressive entrance area sets the mood nicely, with the initial fanfare from Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra providing its usual frisson.  You swiftly emerge into a room which is slightly overwhelming, and it's difficult to work out where to start when faced with four walls of artefacts and a couple of central islands featuring yet more exhibits.  The staff do point out that this part is non-chronological (as, it soon transpires, is the rest of the exhibition), so there's no real problem in dotting around and finding less busy spots.  This first room presents assorted Kubrickiana from various stages of the director's life and career, and it's in here that we find an interesting Dutch connection in the form of a mention of a film called Aryan Papers.  You may not have heard of this film as it was one of Kubrick's discarded projects, and it's never received anything like the amount of discussion and scrutiny afforded to his abandoned epic Napoleon.   

Oscar-winning costumes from Barry Lyndon
For Aryan Papers, which was to be a film about the holocaust, Kubrick had lined up Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege for the leading role.  At that point (the early 1990s) ter Steege was best known for her award-winning performance in George Sluizer's Spoorloos, and she travelled to England to meet with Kubrick, who was greatly impressed by the actress.  Once the role was confirmed as hers, ter Steege waited for the call to start work on the production, and she would receive frequent, reassuring updates from Kubrick's producer (and brother-in-law) Jan Harlan, who told the actress not to worry about any postponements or delays.  During this extended period of downtime ter Steege turned down other roles, but eventually she received the dreaded news that Kubrick had decided to abandon the film.  This decision was at least partly influenced by the fact that his previous film, Full Metal Jacket, had appeared shortly after another Vietnam War movie, Oliver Stone's Platoon, and Kubrick felt that this close proximity had not been especially helpful.  So when he learned that Steven Spielberg's thematically similar Schindler's List was due to be released before Aryan Papers, he decided to call time on the project.  Kubrick would complete one more film - Eyes Wide Shut - before dying, aged 70, in 1999.

2001: A Space Odyssey's Space Station V
Following the first room, there are ten separate displays, each devoted to a single film.  Kubrick's first three movies aren't included here, but everything from 1957's Paths of Glory on gets a substantial space in which props (and other items from the relevant production) are often augmented by a clip from the given film.  Quite naturally, chances are you'll spend longer in the rooms which focus on your own particular favourites, but the final area, devoted to 2001, is probably the pick of the bunch, with The Shining's patch coming a close second.  The Full Metal Jacket display has some interesting photographs of Beckton Gas Works, which stood in for ruined Vietnamese buildings, but I didn't spot any pictures of Cliffe, the village where some of the open country scenes were filmed.  I used to live not too far from Cliffe, so I've included a snap of my own of the area which, over three decades ago, temporarily became Vietnamese countryside.

Cliffe, one of the locations for Full Metal Jacket
There is a great deal to see at the exhibition, and perhaps the biggest recommendation that can be given is that, like many of Kubrick's films, it genuinely feels as if it has real replay value.  It would take many hours to read and study everything on display, so a second visit is sure to reveal details which weren't noticed first time around.  We are fortunate that Kubrick lived and worked in an age when practical effects still dominated - just think how much would be missing from this show if his work was driven by CGI.  Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition will almost certainly leave you with the desire to jump back into the films, so make sure you have a decent selection of Kubrick movies lined up for the days following your visit to this justifiably popular attraction.

Words/images: Darren Arnold

Thursday, 20 June 2019

The Hummingbird Project (Kim Nguyen, 2018)

Director Kim Nguyen's eclectic filmography includes the likes of the DR Congo-set War Witch (which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) and the excellent, snow-drenched Two Lovers and a Bear, and it's the offbeat spirit of the latter which inhabits The Hummingbird Project.  The film's Belgian funding is reflected in the casting of Flemish actor Johan Heldenbergh in a fine supporting role, but the film's two main stars are Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård, who play cousins attempting to install a long-distance fibre optic cable.  While the premise doesn't sound terribly exciting, The Hummingbird Project manages to be a consistently engaging movie, helped no end by the winning performances of two eminently watchable actors.

Vincent (Eisenberg) and Anton (Skarsgård) are employees of a stock trading company headed by the ruthless Eva (a scenery-chewing Salma Hayek).  The cousins have an idea of how they might make millions, if not billions, of their own, which involves running a cable, one that can transfer data at speeds greater than those of the existing network, all the way between Kansas and New York.  In order to achieve such a speed, the cable itself must carry virtually lossless data at breakneck pace and, more importantly, run in a straight line, which involves much drilling, not to mention negotiations with not-always-amenable landowners.  As the pair resign from Eva's company to pursue this secret project, their ex-boss is bent on discovering and disrupting their plans.  Vincent and Anton rope in the affable Mark (Michael Mando, so good as villain Vaas in Far Cry 3) to oversee the complicated drilling work, and the project receives considerable funding from the less affable - but extremely wealthy - Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion). 

Not too far into the film, there's a development involving Vincent which instils a fresh urgency to the cousins' project; Eisenberg brings real pathos to his role, and while his fast-talking, perma-smoking, jittery frontman may fool those around him, the viewer is privy to the pain which lies behind those haunted eyes.  In contrast, Skarsgård's Anton is an introverted, socially awkward type who dreams of the country life, yet he seems quietly fulfilled by his family in a way which highlights the hole in Vincent's existence; a touching scene sees Vincent ask if it would be OK if he took Anton's kids out for ice cream once the mammoth project is completed.  Anton's affirmative response may appear casual, even throwaway, but there's a real sense that he knows just how much this simple act of belonging would mean to his cousin.

For all its poignancy, The Hummingbird Project isn't scared to mix things up a bit by throwing in  some well-judged humour, with a comic highlight being the spontaneous victory dance performed by the normally buttoned-down Anton.  The way in which this moderately serious tale is punctuated with moments of levity draws parallels with the work of Nguyen's compatriot Denys Arcand, whose The Decline of the American Empire is explicity recalled in a scene in which Eisenberg's character visits the bathroom.  You suspect that the great Arcand, whose latest film The Fall of the American Empire continues his examination of the degrading effect of money on civilisation, would approve of Nguyen's own idiosyncratic take on the race to the bottom.

Darren Arnold


Monday, 17 June 2019

Intimate Audrey (1/5/19–25/8/19)

Intimate Audrey is a ‘bespoke’ exhibition on the life of Audrey Hepburn created by her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, to celebrate her 90th birthday anniversary in her birth town of Brussels, Belgium. All of its profits will go to EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe and the Brugmann and Bordet hospitals in Brussels.

Intimate Audrey is een unique tentoonstelling over het leven van Audrey Hepburn, opgericht door haar zoon, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, ter gelegenheid van haar 90ste verjaardag in haar geboortestad Brussel. Alle winst zal worden gedoneerd aan EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe en aan ziekenhuizen Brugmann en Bordet gelegen in Brussel. 

Composed in large part of unpublished photographs, it focuses entirely on the woman - not the icon. It is the woman behind the legend who is ‘coming home’.

De tentoonstelling zal voornamelijk bestaan uit nooit eerder vertoond fotomateriaal, documenten en objecten die tot haar behoorden, de tentoonstelling zal zich uitsluitend richten op de vrouw die ze was en niet het icoon. Het is de vrouw achter deze legende die terugkomt naar de stad waar ze het licht heeft gezien.

The exhibition, laid out over 800 square meters over the first 2 floors of the Gallerie Vanderborght in Brussels, includes several hundred original and re-printed photographs, a limited amount of memorabilia, dresses and accessories, as well as her never before seen fashion drawings and humanitarian writings.

De tentoonstelling, die zich uitstrekt over 800 vierkante meter op de twee eerste verdiepingen van de Vanderborght galerijen in Brussel, omvat honderden originele en herdrukte foto's, een gelimiteerd aantal souvenirs, jurken en accessoires. Maar evenwel haar ongepubliceerde werken zoals haar mode ontwerpen en humanitaire geschriften.

Words/images: Intimate Audrey

Monday, 3 June 2019

The Devils (Devil's Advocates)

Time for a shameless plug here: the book I've been working on for the past couple of years or so is finally available!  It's part of the Devil's Advocates series of books, each volume of which contains an analysis of a notable horror film.  My own particular entry looks at Ken Russell's 1971 shocker The Devils—a film which has never ceased to impress me since I first encountered it a full three decades ago.  The book is published by those fine folks at Auteur, and is available both in brick-and-mortar bookshops and online from, among other places, the following Amazon stores:

UK   –   France      Canada

US      Germany      Spain

Italy      Australia      UAE

Japan      India      Mexico

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Kursk (Thomas Vinterberg, 2018)

It's hard to believe that next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Kursk submarine disaster, which saw 118 men lose their lives during Russia's first significant naval exercise since the fall of the USSR.  Although only on a training mission, the Kursk was carrying a full complement of live weapons, and these were the source of an accidental explosion which saw the stricken vessel sink to the bottom of the Barents Sea.  Shortly after settling, a second, much larger explosion - which registered 4.2 on the Richter scale - was recorded.  It was hours before anyone realised that the submarine was missing - its rescue buoy, reportedly welded in place, had failed to deploy - and many days before a rescue team was able to get inside the vessel; by that stage, as we all know, it was far too late.  The Russian government came under much criticism for its handling of the incident - after locating the submarine yet failing to attach a diving bell to it, the government rebuffed a number of offers of help from other nations including France, Germany and Israel, with President Putin - who at that point had been in his role for just a few months - eventually accepting help from the UK and Norway.  The British-Norwegian teams of divers worked to help access the submarine and facilitate the recovering of the bodies.

The real horror at the heart of the Kursk story lies not with the deaths of those who perished as a result of the initial explosions and subsequent flooding - although that is horrific enough - but in the submarine's ninth compartment, where 23 men managed to hole up in the dark and cold.  In this area, the men had an air pocket that would have sustained them for a while, but nothing like the time it took for help to arrive.  The released parts of a letter written by a Captain-Lieutenant, who fumbled his way around the page in the dark while using his illuminated wristwatch to note down the time, are the only real personal glimpses we have of what it was like for these men who, as it turned out, were hideously unlucky to have survived the explosions and their immediate aftermath.  The Captain-Lieutenant is played by Matthias Schoenaerts, an appealing and dependable actor who captures the essence of someone who was both liked and respected by his men, and who did his best to keep everyone's spirits up in the face of a clock which was always going to run out.

Kursk, a production from Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, sees Schoenearts reteam with Thomas Vinterberg, with the two having previously collaborated on 2015 literary adaptation Far from the Madding Crowd.  Vinterberg's roaring success of a debut feature, Festen, was released before the Kursk even sank, and in the intervening years he's largely struggled to live up to his first film, although his Oscar-nominated Jagten was terrific.  He is, however,  a consistently interesting filmmaker, and one who has always worked fairly steadily, although a fairly orthodox film like Kursk provides him with few opportunities to apply the kind of off-kilter flourishes we might expect from this director.  The pan-European cast also features Léa Seydoux, Colin Firth and Max von Sydow; if nothing else, the production, which may well be dismissed by some as a Euro-pudding, stands as a display of international co-operation that's in sharp contrast to both the belligerence at the core of the Kursk story and the current global political climate.

That the sinking of the Kursk (which, like the Titanic, was widely considered unsinkable) comes early in the film and not at the climax tells us much about the scale of the terror here; in many movies, the critical explosions would come after a long buildup.  Kursk proves to be a tough watch - as a film based on terrible real-life events, its preordained outcome hovers over the entire running time; matters are made much worse through watching the near-miss of the diving bell as it fails to lock onto the sub.  Some of these men came so close to being saved, but the tragic tale sticks to its awful path, as it must; it's like Open Water on a much larger scale.  Kursk is a competent if rather workmanlike film, yet one which grows more disturbing once you've seen it; it's only in the hours and days after seeing the film that the sorry fate of these men will really haunt you.  EuropaCorp's films - outside of Besson's own directorial efforts - tend to be fairly generic, and the starry Kursk is no exception.  But regardless of its merits, Kursk's very existence serves as a reminder of a disaster many of us won't have thought about for some time.

Darren Arnold

Images: EuropaCorp

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Sick, Sick, Sick (Alice Furtado, 2019)

Now that May is upon us, the Cannes Film Festival is just around the corner - and for this year's edition they have, quite appropriately, paid tribute to Agnès Varda via the terrific official poster.  By my reckoning, there are only three Dutch titles on offer at the festival, with Sick, Sick, Sick being one of them.  As I haven't seen the film I am unable to review it, but it does sound very intriguing.  However, you can read a bit more about the film - and see some stills from it - below. (DA)

Please note: all the following words and pictures are copyright © 2019 THE PR FACTORY.

The Brazilian-French-Dutch coproduction Sick, Sick, Sick by Brazilian director Alice Furtado will have its World Premiere at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors' Fortnight) in Cannes. It is her feature debut as director. 

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1987, Alice Furtado graduated in cinema at Universidade Federal Fluminense (Brazil), and post graduated at Le Fresnoy (France). She directed the short films Duelo Antes Da Noite (2010) and La Grenouille et Dieu (2013). As an editor, she worked in Eduardo Williams' first feature El Auge del Humano, and Os Sonâmbulos, by Thiago Mata Machado. 

Sick, Sick, Sick (Sem Seu Sangue) is a film about love and its destabilizing potential. Love that puts the mechanic, productive functioning of routine to test. It is also a film about desire, this strong and passionate feeling that can motivate people to be better than they ever thought they could be, but that can also lead to doom. These two feelings, love and desire, walk hand in hand as a double edge sword. They enhance each other but can also be a very destructive (and yet, powerful) combination. - Alice Furtado

Synopsis: Silvia is an introspective young girl who is not interested in the daily routine between family and school. Everything abruptly changes when Artur arrives unexpectedly in her class, after being banned from several other schools. Silvia is amazed by the vitality of the boy, who actually suffers from a serious illness - hemophilia. The two immerse themselves in an intense and brief coexistence, interrupted by an accident in which Artur bleeds to death. Silvia gets sick and sees her life turn into a strange nightmare. The mourning gradually becomes an obsession, and obsession becomes a goal - Silvia will do anything to bring him back to life.

Friday, 12 April 2019

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard, 2018)

It can often be rather worrying when an established director makes a film in a foreign language for the first time, but the stakes seem especially high when the filmmaker in question is arguably the greatest director working today.  It's fair to say that Jacques Audiard's stunning run from Read My Lips through Dheepan has cemented his place as one of the true greats - a director who rarely seems to put a foot out of place.  Audiard had much to risk by stepping out of his comfort zone to make a film in English; his prior work was always highly nuanced, and filmmakers working in another tongue can often pass over the subtleties of that language.  Happily - and possibly surprisingly - Audiard comes up trumps with The Sisters Brothers, a terrific western  that can proudly sit alongside his other works such as Rust and Bone and A Prophet.  The film's quality is evident from the off, and any doubts we may have had are quickly extinguished.

Set in the unforgiving Oregon of the 1850s, the film follows hitmen brothers Charlie and Eli (Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly) as they carry out the bidding of a wealthy Commodore (Rutger Hauer).  As gunfighters, the brothers prove to be as good as anyone around, and even when the pair are outnumbered, they're never outgunned.  Eli is the more sensitive of the two, while Charlie regularly drowns his own demons in alcohol, which often leaves him in no condition to ride - although it seems that little can blunt his fighting skills.  The Commodore sends the two to hunt down Warm (Riz Ahmed), a timid and sickly-looking gent on his way to California with the Gold Rush.  Taking no chances, the Commodore has also hired Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), a private detective who locates and befriends Warm; Morris grows uneasy at the thought of the grisly end which awaits Warm when the Sisters catch up him, and he and the would-be prospector set out for California together.  With this complication in place, the Sisters find themselves on the trail of both Warm and Morris.

When the two parties eventually come face to face, Audiard brilliantly wrong-foots us and the story takes an unexpected turn.  To detail it here would be to say a little too much, but suffice to say that Warm has been working on a formula for locating gold, and this becomes central to the fates of all four men.  This development comes as part of a whole which feels at once fresh and familiar; Audiard and his trusted co-writer Thomas Bidegain, not for the first time, have created a world in which there's a perfect balance of light and shade.  It is fair to say that the way you view each of the four main characters will change - probably more than once - over the course of the film's running time.  All of this is captured magnificently by the great Belgian cinematographer Benoit Debîe, who recently lensed Gaspar Noé's Climax; Debie makes a major contribution when it comes to putting us in the thick of lawless, dusty 19th century America (although the film was actually shot in Spain).  There are few cinematographers whose work is worth viewing regardless of the director they're teamed with, but Debie's sterling efforts are always worth seeking out; all the better when he links up with the likes of Noé and Audiard.

The Sisters Brothers is adapted from a novel by Canadian author Patrick deWitt, who wrote the screenplay for Terri, which coincidentally also starred John C. Reilly - who's on double duty for The Sisters Brothers, with the actor also taking on the role of producer (alongside Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, no less).  You can see the appeal of the story to Audiard: criminals feature prominently in all of his films (bar A Self-Made Hero), and the same concerns are prevalent here - even if the milieu marks new territory for the director.  A recurrent theme in Audiard's work - of the man who tries to turn away from a life of crime - is also present in The Sisters Brothers.  So, the essence of the film actually isn't so different from what we have come to expect from Jacques Audiard, even if the packaging is unfamiliar.  What is noticeably different this time around is that Audiard pushes more characters to the forefront; usually, his films focus almost exclusively on one or two people, but here he manages to spread the load among the four main characters and, remarkably, they are all equally fascinating.  As such, it's something of an ensemble piece, one which features a quartet of actors on top form.  Whether Audiard ventures into English-language filmmaking again remains to be seen, but what isn't in any doubt is that The Sisters Brothers is a must-see film of tremendous quality.

Darren Arnold

Images: UniFrance